BACKGROUND: Muscle tone is an indispensable element in motor development. Its assessment forms an integral part of the infant neurological examination. Knowledge on the prevalence of atypical tone in infancy is lacking.
AIM: To assess the prevalence of atypical muscle tone in infancy and of the most common atypical muscle tone patterns, and associations between atypical tone and perinatal risk and neurodevelopmental status.
STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.
SUBJECTS: 1100 infants (585 boys; gestational age 39.4 weeks (27.3-42.4)), 6 weeks-12 months corrected age, representative of the Dutch population.
OUTCOME MEASURES: Muscle tone and neurodevelopmental status were assessed with the Standardized Infant NeuroDevelopmental Assessment (SINDA). Perinatal information was obtained by questionnaire and medical records. Univariable and multivariable statistics were applied.
RESULTS: Ninety-two infants (8%) had atypical muscle tone in 3-4 body parts (impaired pattern), while atypical muscle tone in 1-2 body parts was observed in 50%. Isolated leg hypotonia and isolated arm hypertonia were most common. Isolated arm hypertonia and the impaired pattern were most clearly but only moderately associated with perinatal risk. These patterns were also most clearly associated with lower neurological scores. Only the impaired pattern was associated with lower developmental scores.
CONCLUSION: Atypical muscle tone in one or two body parts is common in infancy and has in general little clinical significance. This finding corresponds to the well-known high prevalence of a typical but non-optimal neurological condition. Eight percent of infants show atypical muscle tone in 3-4 body parts. This clinically relevant pattern is associated with perinatal risk and less favourable neurodevelopmental status.